What happens when your key sales leader leaves the organization?

In a best-case scenario, this is an opportunity for renewal and new ideas. In a worst-case scenario, the company may miss crucial sales goals. Missing those revenue goals can have a cascading effect on the rest of the company.

Use these short-term and long-term strategies to keep your sales team focused. Losing a sales leader is a blow to the company, but it doesn’t have to be fatal.

Why You Can Make Progress Without A Sales Leader

Recovering from the loss of a sales leader becomes easier once you change your perspective. There are three shifts in thinking to keep in mind as you cope with this loss.

  • We’ve All Become More Flexible. Since 2020, businesses have embraced flexibility to cope with a global health emergency. Reflect on other challenges your company has overcome in the past year. Reflecting on your past wins will inspire the leadership team to find solutions.
  • Get Back To Sales Fundamentals. In sales, it is easy to obsess over closed-won deals and commissions. However, you cannot control those results directly. Encourage staff to refocus on the fundamental sales habits that create wins. For example, you might get started with a few simple habits: talk to five new prospects per week and ask for one referral from current customers each week. This practice is vitally important because 44% of executives say that their organization is not effective at managing the sales process (source: Process Street).

Encourage Potential Sales Leaders To Step Up. Losing a sales leader can be a unique opportunity for ambitious salespeople to grow their leadership skills. Consider reaching out to one or two experienced salespeople and ask them about their interest in taking on leadership responsibilities. For example, you might ask two of your successful account executives to coach junior sales professionals on their prospecting calls.

Now you know the potential opportunity to grow, you’re probably asking yourself questions like this… “If our sales VP just left, who exactly is going to drive these changes through the company?”  The answer is appointing an interim head of sales.

4 Steps To Make Progress Without A Permanent Sales VP. 

Making progress without a full-time sales leader or VP is possible when you follow these steps.

1. Appoint an interim head of sales

Within a week or two of losing your sales leader, it is vital to appoint an interim or acting head of sales. This interim appointment needs to be credible for the sales team. For example, the President or CEO of a smaller company may take on the role. Otherwise, consider appointing your top-performing salesperson if they have shown leadership potential.

Before making the appointment, have a frank discussion about workload with the interim head of sales. There is a higher risk of burnout for a person who takes on multiple roles. Encourage the interim head of sales to seek support as they take on this new responsibility.

2. Set short term sales goals

An interim head of sales might be in their role for a few weeks to a few months. Given that short tenure, it makes sense to set short-term goals. We recommend using the “12 Week Year” by Brian P. Moran and Michael Lennington as a guide. For a day, set aside your annual goals and ask your interim sales leader to set 1-3 sales goals that can be achieved in the next 12 weeks. Once you have those goals, set up weekly meetings to monitor progress.

3. Focus on quick wins 

When you have a short-term focus and an interim head of sales, it is best to focus on easy wins. This is not the time to explore international markets if you have no experience in them. Instead, focus your sales effort on existing relationships.

During this interim period, focus your sales activities in the following areas:

  • Improve customer retention. Spending more time with current customers may help to boost retention. Take the time to ask about customer preferences. For example, your customer may ask to change their delivery timing to the morning instead of the afternoon. Once you find out these needs, work with customer service and fulfillment to see what changes are possible to satisfy customers.
  • Get more referrals. Everybody loves word of mouth, but few take effort to encourage referrals. Encourage your sales team to seek referrals from current customers. Referrals to other potential customers at the same company are also worth pursuing. After your salesperson connects with the referral, send a thank you card to the person who provided the introduction.
  • Set A Follow-Up Goal. Missed sales opportunities due to poor follow-up are a common problem. Open your CRM and make a list of people you have not spoken to in the past 90 days. Reaching out to those prospects again today might lead to a few new deals.

Before closing this section, there is activity to avoid. Consider pausing the majority of your sales recruiting efforts. Without a dedicated sales leader in place, sales recruiting will be challenging.

4. Recognize The Limitations Of Interim Sales Leaders

The above solution is best seen as a temporary fix, not a permanent solution to your sales growth. There is a substantial risk of burnout for your interim sales leader because they will be handling two jobs. For example, a company president who takes on sales management responsibility will have less time to focus on managing the company’s overall strategy and financial performance.

The other disadvantage to relying on an interim head of sales for the long term is growth and innovation. A temporary sales leader may not have the skills to provide coaching to the sales team. Further, that person may not have the capacity to pursue new markets or complex sales. Ultimately, a lack of a full-time sales leader puts a brake on your revenue growth.

How Peak Can Help You Find a Sales Leader

Recruiting a sales leader is a crucial leadership decision. You need a person capable of guiding the sales team to achieve their quotas. That’s not all. The best sales leaders also know how to collaborate effectively with their peers in marketing, customer service, and other functions. Peak Sales Recruiting has experience recruiting sales leaders for companies like John Deere, technology firms, and other industries. Contact us today to discuss your sales leadership needs.


Eliot Burdett

CEO at Peak Sales Recruiting
Before Peak, Eliot spent more than 20 years building and leading companies, where he took the lead in recruiting and managing high performance sales teams. He co-founded Ventrada Systems (mobile applications) and GlobalX (e-commerce software). He was also Vice President of Sales for PointShot Wireless.

Eliot received his B. Comm. from Carleton University and has been honored as a Top 40 Under 40 Award winner.

He co-authored Sales Recruiting 2.0, How to Find Top Performing Sales People, Fast and provides regular insights on sales team management and hiring on the Peak Sales Recruiting Blog.

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